Yong Taï (whose real name was Li Xian), the Emperor Zhong Zong’s seventh daughter and granddaughter of the Empress Wu Zeitian (324-705), was known for her beauty which “could pale the plum blossom”. In 700, she married Wu Yanji, nephew of the Empress. At the age of 17, pregnant, she died poisoned by the Empress; her husband later suffered the same fate. The Emperor Zhong Zong named his daughter posthumously “Princess Yong Tai”, and ordered that she be buried alongside of her husband in the Qianling tomb.
Located in the Shaanxi province, Qianling is a funerary place, the construction of which spanned over a quarter of a century. The princess’s tomb is part of seventeen “satellite” tombs. The burial mound covering the underground tomb is shaped like a pyramid, 87.5 meters in length by 3.9 meters in width. The tomb is made up of a main passage, five doors, a corridor, eight small spaces, an antechamber and a main chamber, measuring 16.7 meters in depth. In front of the tomb are aligned a pair of lions, two pairs of stone statues and a pair of obelisks. A cobbled path, lined with eight small niches, leads to the tomb’s antechamber, accessed by a long corridor which descends underground and into the burial mound. Between 1960 and 1962, an excavation uncovered more than one thousand items in this sepulchre including ceramics, glazed or wooden statues. The antechamber’s walls are entirely decorated with frescoes representing court maidservants. Representations of dragons, white tigers and the guard of honor are found in the funerary chamber. The ceiling is covered with a fresco illustrating astronomical phenomenon.
In situ, the frescoes have since been replaced by replicas in order for the originals to be properly preserved at the Museum of History of Shaanxi. The museum's architecture was inspired by that of the Tang palaces; it is one of the largest state museums in China.
This fresco represents the portrait of the princess before her death. The beauty standards of the time defined Chinese artistic creation, especially with regards to a princess’s posthumous portrait. These frescoes represent a period during which artistic expression was being diversified, techniques developed, themes varied and the aesthetic aspect asserted.